Outraged residents of Bushwick — and all across New York City — say their monthly Con Edison bill has surged as high as three times what they’ve previously paid, an unexpected cost many say they can’t afford. 

The increases, which impact a total of 10 million customers, come on the heels of Con Edison’s request to the state earlier this month to hike electric prices by 11.2% and gas prices by 18.2% next year.

But the exorbitant costs that slammed New Yorkers this week were unplanned, the company says. According to a Con Edison spokesperson, the company is blaming market instability that has allegedly impacted cost of the natural gas that the company buys from suppliers. 

“The changes in customer bills are mainly due to the supply cost of the energy commodity. Natural gas is a driver of electricity costs as it is used by generation plants to create electricity,” said the Con Edison spokesperson, in a lengthy statement the company asked to not be attributed. “Con Edison does not make a profit on the commodity. We buy the energy on the wholesale market and provide it to customers at the same price we paid.”

Energy prices often change based on weather patterns, changes in demand and the movement of economic trends but, for locals, the latest spike came without warning. Some said their bills for the past month exceeded $500, a major spike from average totals. Previously, the price the company sold electricity at was roughly $0.06, per kilowatt-hour of energy use. That number increased to about $.17 in last month’s bill cycle.

Alex Ferdinandi, a 28-year-old Bushwick resident, says the Con Edison bill for his four-bedroom apartment jumped from $370 last month to $590 this one. 

“For me, the part that is most obnoxious is that it increased so drastically with no explanation or even a warning,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to manage the change, but now I have to re-evaluate my budget and monthly expenses based on what now is the reality that my bill can double without any warning.”

In addition to the $1.2 billion more in electric revenue and the $500 million in gas revenue that Con Edison plans to see from its latest request, the State Public Service Commission voted in January 2020 to allow Con Edison to increase electricity prices $8.6% and gas prices 15.8%, over the next three years.

The PSC, which regulates and oversees the electric, gas, water and telecommunication industries in New York state, puts together the number average consumer pays for electricity through a retail rate that the commissioners approve.

James Denn, who works press for the PSC, said although utility companies use various buying methods and hedges to get the best price and offset supply cost increases, the cost of natural gas has spiked, as has the demand for the nonrenewable resource. He added that increases in exports and severe weather stymied production in the Gulf area. 

“In regards to Con Edison’s recent rate filing, it will be carefully scrutinized as part of an eleven-month formal review process,” Denn said. “During the review period we will carefully review the companies’ rate filings and subject them to a rigorous investigative process with ample opportunity for public comment.”

The office of New York’s Independent System Operator – which coordinates, controls, and monitors the operation of electrical power systems in the state – said in a statement that it is aware of these rate hikes. Many New Yorkers, however, say they are not reassured.

“I’m lucky and I think it won’t have an impact on me for now, but it does make me wonder what will happen during the summer. I work from home and that means I need to have A/C on 24/7 during the warmer months,” Ferdinandi said. “I was also away for almost 2 weeks during this billing cycle, so I expect it to increase even more in the coming months.”

Rosenberg said that regardless of supply increases, the cost to customers should be limited

When asked what the state will do to offset the increasing energy costs – Census data shows that housing and utilities prices already take up over 30% of the average New Yorkers’ income – Denn, from the PSC, pointed to a new $373 million home heating aid program that’s aimed at low- and middle-income residents. The PSC also successfully asked for more money to fund its statewide Energy Affordability Policy program: from $237.6 million to $366.7 million. 

The PSC has also expanded eligibility for its EAP program, potentially covering up to 95,000 additional people, he said. 

Julia Salazar, a state senator who represents New York’s 18th District in Albany, challenged the PSC and Con Edison on Twitter after constituents began sounding off on their increased bills. 

“Con Edison will respond by saying they ‘don’t control the cost of supply.’ OK, but, Con Ed proposes double-digit rate increases for customers in order to generate enormous additional revenue for the company and pass on the costs to the rest of us. And the PSC keeps letting them,” Salazar said. 

Marc Rosenberg – 33 and also of Bushwick – said that regardless of supply increases, the cost to customers should be limited. 

“I think price increases also should be capped at certain percentages to allow for residents to prepare and save as needed. I understand that costs will increase now, but there was no warning this would be the case and I was caught off guard when I read my bill,” Rosenberg said. “Especially given how there aren’t other options for these services, it feels especially paralyzing to think that I just have to accept this and will continue to do so in the future, especially when I need to use more energy when it gets warm outside.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the increases that the State Public Service Commission approved in 2020. It has been corrected.

Top image taken by Erik Kantar for Bushwick Daily.

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